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EXCLUSIVE: How Albertsons Envisions the Future of Sustainability

Company exec Suzanne Long shares insights during panel at Manifest conference
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Albertsons electric truck
Sustainability is top of mind for Albertsons, ranging from supply chain initiatives to circularity.

Albertsons Cos. has made big sustainability moves in recent years through its Recipe for Change initiative, and the company is keeping a keen eye toward future strategies in the space. Suzanne Long, chief sustainability and transformation officer at Albertsons Cos., joined a panel discussion on the opening day of Manifest 2024, the supply chain and logistics conference held Feb. 5-7 at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, to discuss supply chain sustainability, technology advancements, circularity and more.

Diving Into What’s Next

During the panel discussion, Long addressed whether today’s sustainability programs are being driven by Albertsons Cos. itself or by consumers demanding them. While Long contended that the pendulum swings both ways and some consumers are ambivalent about the retailer’s initiatives, she dove deeper into her vision of a future where sustainable business practices are the norm.

“My vision for how this should work is that people shouldn’t have to make a choice,” she explained. “We should be doing things in a way that we can manufacture goods so that if you care about the taste of the product, the longevity of the product or the health of the product, you don’t have to choose that versus something that is better for the planet.”

When there’s less plastic used in a product, for example, that lowers the cost of the item and is also better for the environment. 

“I think the key for us as retailers is to meet consumers where they are and give them a choice. That’s the way our business operates,” Long said. “As more consumers choose more [sustainable products], we will give them more in exchange, and in the meantime, we will be working in the background to make it so that hopefully, at some point, they don’t have to make a choice.”

Technology and Circularity

When looking at the technology that will shape the future of sustainability, Long says that while things change quickly, she gains hope from new innovations just coming into the mainstream and those that stand to make an impact over the next several years. “Technology changes so fast, so the way I think about the technology is not ‘what can it solve for today?’ but I’m excited about what it solves for tomorrow,” she said.

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Additionally, Long shared that circularity is a core business practice for Albertsons and something the company is thinking a lot about currently, including the technology necessary to advance it. And while the single-use plastic bag is an obvious offender in this arena, there’s more to the story, Long said. 

“The question I always ask is, what about the seven items in the bag? Isn’t there far more plastic packaging in those items than in the bag itself?” she mused. “We definitely have to address the bag, there’s no doubt about that, but as we think about it, we’re trying to think about all the things in the bag.”

That includes, but is certainly not limited to, taking plastic waste that would have gone into the system and creating something else with it, diverting food waste, or finding other uses for things that will be leftover regardless of best business practices.

Supply Chain Sustainability

As Long made clear during the panel discussion, the future of sustainability in the supply chain must be looked at through the lens of a larger food system that spans growers and manufacturers upstream, flowing through the store itself, then moving downstream to the consumer. That means companies like Albertsons must work collaboratively with other stakeholders to create solutions that benefit each one.

“That whole system is part of whatever solution that we have to create,” Long said. “If our company changes the way we order, that has a natural implication upstream and a natural implication downstream. It’s going to send a different demand signal up to [suppliers], it’s going to send a different demand signal for how much product we need, but it also changes the availability of that product to consumers.”

According to Long, many companies make the mistake of only looking at a sliver of that system when making changes instead of the larger ripple effect their decisions will make. Businesses should instead work with every stakeholder to figure out the implications of making changes, however positive, to the overall supply chain.

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